Uncovering Shamanism’s Roots with Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. Menla Blog

In this excerpt from the Foundation of the Sacred Stream’s blog, Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. introduces the history of shamanism and the role of the Shaman across millennia assisting the development of sensitive beings and communities in need.

Shamanism : A Linguistic History

The word shaman originates from “šamán,” most likely from the Tungus language of Mongolia and was brought to the West in the 17th century by the Dutch traveler Nicolaas Witsen who recounted his experiences of Siberia in a book, Noord en Oost Tartaryen. The root of the word means “to know.”

Mircea Eliade, who has written extensively on shamanism and shamanic experience, points to the Sanskrit word śramaṇa, which refers to a wandering monastic or holy figure. This particular etymology indicates an ancient interface between shamanic and Buddhist wisdom systems.

The word shaman refers to “anybody who contacts a spirit world while in an altered state of consciousness – particularly on the behalf of others.”

The Shaman Role : Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems

What the shaman “knows” is the nature of the spirit world – the spirits of nature, the spirits of human beings, and the spirits of other forms of beings who, according to shamanic understanding, influence the affairs of humans. Shamans are the doctors, priests, psychopomps, and teachers of their communities.

They accomplish these tasks with the help of the spirits they establish contact with by altering their state of consciousness through dreams, the use of repetitive sound, or the ingestion of psychotropic plants. The spirits generally take the forms of nature – so the shaman may have spirit guides in the form of a hawk, a bear or a plant. Forays into the spirit world provide them with the information they need to accomplish particular tasks required of them.

Shamanism has been practiced for millennia and has many important aspects. The proximity that it keeps to the natural world, and its effort to tap into the power of the Earth, is fundamental to helping shamans maintain a strong relationship with the wisdom of nature.

The loss of this connection is, according to shamans, the reason for the current crisis that we are experiencing. The effort to try and discern the wisdom that is held in the processes of the natural world is an important step in the evolution of awareness.

This spirit of inquiry into the worlds of the unseen is a very important contribution that shamanism provides to the expansion of consciousness.

Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.


Mondays at Menla with Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. Menla Blog

A special feature showcasing some of the individuals, groups and organizations who help make Tibet House’s Menla retreat and Dewa spa in Phoenicia, New York the special place that it is. In this installment of Mondays At Menla, we’re honored to sit down and talk with Sacred Stream’s Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D, Foundation of the Sacred Stream

You’ve taught at Menla in the past years. Could you speak on what it’s like to return annually?

My time at Menla every spring and fall is something I look forward to all year. There is very little that is more engaging, educational and inspiring than teaching with Bob [Thurman) this is, of course, one of the reasons I look forward to returning to Menla. I am always happy to reunite with the members of the staff – the work they do allows so many people the opportunity to come into contact with this very special land.

You’ve co-taught two programs “Embracing the Sacred Feminine” + “Shamans and Siddhas” at Menla over the years, What is the difference between these two retreat offerings + what is it like teaching them annually. How will this year’s experiences be different?

“Embracing the Sacred Feminine” is a class that focuses on discovering our relationship to the abundant, nurturing and mutual power of the great mother and “Shamans and Siddhas” is the exploration of two wisdom systems – Vajrayana Buddhism and Shamanism, which is an earth-based system found in many cultural contexts.

On Co-Teaching with Robert A.F. Thurman

Bob has been a strong proponent and admirer of the great feminine – and he values the role of women in society more than any man I have ever known. Yet, the more teach this class, the more I see his ability to directly touch into the power of the great feminine rather than going through women to access it.

Do you remember your first visit to Phoenicia, New York? We’d love to hear about your impressions about what it was like to visit Menla for the first time.

The first time I came to Menla I came with monks from the Gaden Shartse Dokhang. Menla provided them with the sustenance they needed to continue the tour. When teaching at Menla, I always see that same support & spaciousness active in the students’ experience.

To read more about Isa’s first visit to Menla Retreat and Dewa Spa, read her article “Reflections on Menla“.

Drumming & Meditation at the Crossroads of Shamanism & Tantra 

Drumming at the Crossroads of Shamanism & Tantra

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. Menla Blog

In this excerpt from the Foundation of the Sacred Stream’s blog, Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. explains the context of a shamanic counseling practice and how drumming and drum healings can be used to help clients to access well-defended emotions and experiences.

Shaman as Hollow Bone & Drumming in Shamanic Cultures

In almost all shamanic cultures, both past and present, we see drumming and the drum being used as an instrument of healing. Shamans use the drum to address many issues and physical ailments including depression, phobias, addiction, and chronic health problems.

The Shaman has been described as a hollow bone. He or she enters an altered state or light trance, clearing out his or her personal ego space to make way for spirit to use him or her as a healing tool. In this way, the Shaman is a channel for higher consciousness.

The spirits that Shamans work with are described as compassionate beings, very similar to the Judeo-Christian description of angels. Although some people may resist or question the concept of healing spirits or divine spirit, it is not necessary to believe in this idea to experience healing with the drum. When I use the drum, I usually use it in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques.

Use of Drumming to Shift Difficult Emotions

The following example illustrates how the drum can be used to create a shift in a client’s long-standing issue with anger. In this case, the client was a 34-year-old man. In the course of our counseling, I had discovered that his anger was the root cause of a depression he had suffered from for most of his adult life.

While drumming, I focus my attention on moving power through the drum and into the place in my client’s psyche where [they] hold anger. As a result of drum healing, my clients experience a profound shift in anger, [gaining] access to a great deal of new memories previously inaccessible.

Eventually, anger gives way to a deep sense of sorrow, the emotion ultimately underlying anger. After the drum healing, the clients report feeling purged and more alive than he had ever felt before.

– Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.


Reflections on Menla Retreat by Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. Menla Blog

In this excerpt from the Foundation for the Sacred Stream, Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. recounts her 2014 visit to Menla.

The Magic of Menla Retreat, Tibet in the Catskills

Menla means Medicine Buddha in Tibetan, but I think the esoteric translation must be “magic.”  Located in the Catskill Mountains in New York, Menla is a place unto itself.

In the center of the bowl created by this cosmic event is Menla, a well-maintained collection of beautiful buildings including a conference center, spa, barn, and lodges. From the bottom of the meteor crater, you look up to see the hills, forested with mature oaks and maples, and in the rain, the hillsides cascade with streams running down from the crater’s rim. The melody of the water complements a cacophony of hundreds of birds. I was happily kept up at night by a pair of owls calling across the valley.

The teachings were those of Geshe Chophel, the spiritual master of the Gaden Shartse Dokhang Compassion Tour that Menla is hosting, and those of Robert A.F Thurman, one of the most articulate and passionate interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism alive today. In articulating the nature of the Medicine Buddha, Bob managed to tap dance into his favorite rap on nothingness, and the monks created a beautiful sand mandala of the palace, or home, of the Medicine Buddha.

The Medicine Buddha, Master Healer

The Medicine Buddha is like the patron saint of healers, and is, himself, a master healer. The Medicine Buddha depicted in thangkas is deep cobalt in color and holds the myrobalan flower that cures all ills and a bowl of nectar which is an elixir for all disease.

In the center is an ornate gilt box that contains all the existing texts related to healing in Tibetan medicine. Around the center square of this box are the Eight Medicine Buddha Brothers, each in the form of a petal surrounding the center square, representing the sixteen Bodhisattvas who return to the realm of suffering, after attaining enlightenment, to relieve the ills of those who are still caught in the cycle of suffering.

The magic of our time at Menla is counted in so many ways: the place which is like no other; the monks, themselves, coming from across the world, to create the mandala for the Buddha who is the center of Menla Retreat.

To read the original article, please visit: www.sacredstream.org.


375 Pantherkill Road, P.O. Box 70 Phoenicia, NY 12464
845-688-6897 ext 101